Basics and Refreshing about International Maritime Organization (IMO)

IMO Works: Safe, Secure and Efficient Shipping on Clean Oceans

‘’IMO is the United Nations’ specialized agency responsible for safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships’’

Present IMO Secretory – General : Mr. Koji Sekimizu​​​​​​


  • IMO is a specialised agency of the United Nations dealing with maritime affairs. Its membership consists of 162 signatory States that include the UK and every other major maritime country, and three Associate Members1. Together, IMO Member States control more than 96% of world merchant tonnage.
  • IMO’s purposes are stated in Article 1 of the Convention on the International Maritime Organization. The chief purposes can be summarised as:
  • to facilitate inter-governmental co-operation on State regulation and practices relating to maritime technical matters; and
  • to encourage and facilitate the adoption of the highest practicable standards of maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships.
  • Address: 4 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7SR, England.
  • Website:


IMO organs:

IMO’s main organs are its Assembly,



Council, Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), Legal Committee, and Technical Co-operation Committee. There is also a Facilitation Committee and a number of sub-committees of the main technical committees.

  • IMO’s work is mostly technical, and is carried out by the committees and sub-committees on which sit representatives of the governments of Member States. (For a note on the UK’s IMO Liaison Team and Permanent Representative to IMO.


  • Is the highest governing body of IMO. It consists of all Member States and meets once every 2 years in regular sessions, and in extraordinary sessions if necessary. The Assembly is responsible for approving IMO’s work programme, for voting IMO’s budget and for determining IMO’s financial arrangements. It elects IMO’s Council.
  • Plenary sessions of the Assembly are open to the press and public, but the majority of its work is done in Committee.


  • Is composed of 40 Member States elected by the Assembly for 2-year terms beginning after each regular session. 10 Council members are Member States with the largest interest in providing international shipping services, e.g. Greece and Norway.
  • 10 are other States with the largest interest in international seaborne trade.
  • 20 are other States with special interests in maritime transport or navigation and whose election to the Council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world2.
  • Council is the executive organ of IMO, responsible under the Assembly for supervising IMO’s work. It performs the functions of Assembly between sessions, except for making recommendations to governments on maritime safety and pollution.

Main committees:

  • include the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and the Legal Committee.
  • Each have sub-committees which deal with detailed technical matters.
  • may produce resolutions


  • consists of the Secretary-General and nearly 300 personnel, based at IMO’s London headquarters

IMO instruments:

  • Conventions;
  • Protocols;
  • Amendments;
  • Recommendations, Codes and Guidelines; and
  • Resolutions.

Amendments, guidelines and other measures are promulgated by the main committees (including the MSC and MEPC) by means of circulars, e.g. MSC/Circ. 666: Loading and unloading of bulk cargoes.


  • are multilateral treaty documents.
  • are the chief instruments of IMO, being binding legal instruments regulating some aspect of maritime affairs of major concern to IMO, e.g. safety of life at sea or marine pollution.
  • are identified by a name and the year of adoption by the Assembly, e.g. the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974”.
  • may have detailed technical provisions attached in annexes, e.g. the six annexes to the MARPOL Convention, each dealing with a different aspect of marine pollution.
  • may also have detailed technical provisions in an associated code, e.g. the LSA Code, which contains technical provisions of equipment required under the provisions of SOLAS.
  • are commonly referred to by a single-word code-name, e.g. “COLREG”, more correctly called “COLREG 1972” to indicate the year of adoption.
  • The composition of the Council was changed by the 1993 amendments to the IMO Convention which came into effect on 7 November 2002.
  • A Member State which ratifies or accedes to an IMO convention is obliged to give effect to it by making its requirements part of its national law.
  •  Ratification involves a dual obligation for a Member State; it is both a formal commitment to apply the provisions of the convention, and an indication of willingness to accept a measure of international supervision.


  • are important treaty instruments made when major amendments are required to be made to a convention which, although already adopted, has not yet entered into force.
  • The SOLAS Convention, 1974 has been amended twice by means of protocols: by the 1978 SOLAS Protocol (which entered into force on 1 May 1981) and by the 1988 SOLAS Protocol (which entered into force on 3 February 2000 and replaced and abrogated the 1978 Protocol as between Parties to the 1988 Protocol).
  • The combined instruments, formerly known as SOLAS 74/78, are now collectively called SOLAS 74/88.
    • The MARPOL Convention, 1973 has also been amended by means of protocols.
    • The 1978 MARPOL Protocol made major changes to MARPOL in the wake of several large-scale pollution incidents in the 1970s, even though the 1973 Convention had not yet come into force;

it also absorbed the parent Convention and ensured that the combined Convention / Protocol instrument (called MARPOL 73/78) would enter into force at an earlier date than the parent Convention would have done alone. (MARPOL 73/78 came into force on 2 October 1983.) The 1997.

MARPOL Protocol (containing Annex VI – Regulations for the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) was adopted on 26 September 1997 and will enter into force 12 months after being accepted by at least 15 States with not less than 50% of world merchant shipping tonnage. (After that date MARPOL 73/78 may be referred to as MARPOL 73/78/97.)

The International Convention on Load Lines, 1966 (LL 66) has been amended by a 1988 Protocol (which entered into force on 3 February 2000) and may now be referred to as LL 66/88.

Recommendations, Codes and Guidelines:

  • In addition to Conventions and other formal treaty instruments, IMO has adopted several hundred Recommendations and a number of Codes and Guidelines dealing with a wide range of subjects, most of them technical in nature.
  • Each of these instruments is agreed by adoption of a Resolution, either of the Assembly or a main committee.
  • Recommendations are not formal treaty documents like Conventions and Protocols and are not subject to ratification.
  • They provide more specific guidelines than treaty documents. Although Recommendations are not legally binding on governments,
  • they provide guidance in framing national regulations and requirements. Many governments do in fact apply the provisions of recommendations by incorporating them, in whole or in part, national legislation or regulations.
  • Recommendations are generally intended to supplement or assist the implementation of the relevant provisions of conventions and, in some cases, the principal codes, guidelines, etc.
  • Many Recommendations are closely linked to Conventions and are designed to assist in their implementation. For example, Resolution A.526(13) which was adopted in at the 13th Session of the Assembly in 1983 and lays down minimum performance standards for rate-of-turn indicators. (Where required to be fitted under SOLAS Regulation V/12, rate-of-turn indicators must meet or exceed the performance standards established by Resolution A.526(13).)
  • Some Recommendations constitute Codes, Guidelines or Recommended Practices on important matters not considered suitable for regulation by formal treaty instruments such as Conventions or Protocols.
  • Codes are named, e.g. the International Code of Signals (1969) and the ISM Code. Many Codes, such as the Timber Deck Cargoes Code, are non-mandatory but may be used by Governments as the basis for national regulations.
  • Other codes, such as the ISM Code, the IBC Code and the IGC Code, are mandatory under a regulation of a “parent” Convention. For a list of the chief codes.
  • are the final documents resulting from the agreement by the IMO Assembly or a main committee (e.g. MSC or MEPC) of some matter such as an Amendment or Recommendation.
  • Resolutions of the Assembly, e.g. Resolution A.586(XIV), where “A” refers to the Assembly, “586” is the serial number of the resolution, and “XIV” indicates that it was made by the 14th Session of the Assembly; or
  • Resolutions of a main IMO committee, e.g. MEPC.54(32), where “MEPC” stands for “Marine Environment Protection Committee”, “54” is the serial number of the resolution, and “32” indicates that it was made by the 32nd session of the Committee.

Development of IMO Conventions:  

How Conventions being discussed, made, Entering into force, Amendments and Enforcements of IMO Conventions:

  • Developments in shipping and related industries are discussed by Member States in main IMO organs (Assembly, Council and 4 main committees).
  • The need for a new convention or amendments to an existing convention can be raised in any of these, but is usually raised in one of the committees.
  • The proposal goes to Council and, as necessary, to Assembly.
  • With authorisation of Council or Assembly, the committee concerned considers the matter in greater detail and draws up a draft Convention. Detailed consideration may be given in a sub-committee. Inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations with a working relationship with IMO assist committees and sub-committees with views and advice.
  • The draft Convention is reported to Council and Assembly with a recommendation that a conference be convened to consider draft for formal adoption.
  • Invitations to attend a conference are sent to all Member States, all member States of the UN, and specialised agencies of the UN. The draft Convention is circulated for comment by governments and organisations.
  • Conference examines the draft Convention and comments. Necessary changes are made before producing a draft acceptable to the majority of governments present. The Convention thus agreed on is adopted by the conference and deposited with the Secretary-General, who sends copies to all governments of Member States.
  • The Convention is opened for signature by States, usually for 12 months. Signatories may ratify or accept the Convention.
  • Non-signatories may accede to the Convention. ( notes on ratification and acceptance was explained in early article)
  • The Convention is not binding on any ratifying State until formally accepted by that State.

Entry into force of IMO Conventions:  

  • Each Convention includes provisions stipulating conditions to be met before it enters into force.
  • The more important and complex the document, the more stringent the conditions for entry into force. E.g. TONNAGE 1969 required acceptance by 25 States with combined merchant tonnage totalling at least 65 per cent of world gross tonnage,
  • whereas the International Convention for Safe Containers (CSC) only required acceptance by 10 States.
  • Governments take measures to comply with Convention’s requirements.
  • In many cases this means enacting or changing national legislation to enforce Convention provisions. (E.g. the UK made the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Navigation) Regulations 2002 to give effect to the revised Chapter V of SOLAS.)
  • Governments deposit a formal instrument of acceptance and become Contracting States.
  • When stipulated entry conditions have been met, the Convention enters into force for all States which have accepted it, generally after a period of grace to enable States to take measures for implementation.

Amendment of IMO Conventions and other instrument

  • Amendments may be made to conventions, protocols or their annexes after discussion, agreement and adoption by the IMO Assembly.
  • Amendments are made by adoption of a Resolution, such as MEPC.51(32) – Amendments to the Annex of the Protocol of 1978 relating to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships, 1973 (Discharge criteria of Annex I of MARPOL 73/78).
  • Amendments are suggested, discussed, agreed as with Conventions.
  • The major IMO conventions such as SOLAS and MARPOL have been amended on numerous occasions.
  • In early Conventions, amendments came into force only after a percentage of Contracting States, usually two thirds, had accepted them. This took several, and sometimes many, years.
  • Newer Conventions incorporate procedure for tacit acceptance of amendments by States, which speeds up the amendment process.
  • Under the tacit acceptance procedure, an amendment enters into force at a particular time unless, before that date, objections to the amendment are received from a specified number of Parties.

 Enforcement of IMO conventions


  • Neither IMO nor ILO have enforcement powers of their own, other than limited powers under the revised STCW Convention (STCW 95).
  • Contracting Governments enforce the provisions of IMO and ILO conventions in respect of their own ships and set penalties for offences.
  • They may have limited powers of port State control in respect of ships flying the flags of other States when these ships are in ports and waters under their jurisdiction (Will be explained latter).
  • Enforcement thus depends on Governments of Member States, i.e. flag States and port States.
  • Port State control provisions are contained in several of the main conventions. For example, SOLAS regulation I/19 provides that:
  • every ship in a port of another SOLAS country is subject to control by authorised officers of the port State for the purpose of verifying that SOLAS certificates carried are valid (regulation 19(a));
  • certificates, if valid, will be accepted unless there are clear grounds for believing that the condition of the ship or its equipment does not correspond substantially with the particulars on any of the certificates or that the ship and its equipment do not comply with SOLAS (regulation 19(b));
  • where a certificate has expired or ceased to be valid, the port State control officer will detain the ship until it can proceed to sea or to a repair port without danger to the persons on board (regulation 19(c));
  • in event of detention, the flag State’s consul, IMO, and surveyors of the organisations issuing the certificates will be informed (regulation 19(d));
  • where the port State is unable to take action, or where it allows a ship to proceed despite defects or deficiencies, it will notify the authorities at the next port of call (regulation 19(e));
  • when exercising control, all possible efforts will be made to avoid a ship being unduly detained or delayed (regulation 19(f)).
  • MARPOL 73/78, ILO 147 and several other conventions contain similar port State control provisions to those in SOLAS chapter I.
    • Offences discovered during port State control inspections may result in detention by the port State, if it is a Contracting Party to the convention being breached.
    • When an offence occurs within the jurisdiction of another State, that State can either instigate proceedings in accordance with its own laws or give details of the offence to the flag State so that it can take action. 
    • Offences committed in international waters may be reported to the flag State.
    • Under the terms of the Intervention Convention 1969, Contracting States are empowered to act against ships of other countries which have been involved in an accident or have been damaged on the high seas if there is a grave risk of oil pollution occurring. These powers are exercised in the UK under section 137 of Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (see H03i).


  • The “parent” instrument of IMO is the IMO Convention, which entered into force on 17 March 1958 and has (at 31 April 2003) 162 contracting States with 98.52% of world tonnage.
  • The majority of other conventions and other instruments adopted under the auspices of IMO fall into three main categories:
  • maritime safety instruments;
  • marine pollution instruments; and
  • liability and compensation instruments, especially in relation to damage caused by pollution.

In addition there are several instruments concerning other subjects and many IMO Codes.

For More details about IMO, Can visit…

References: Articles from IMLI (International Maritime law institute)

The Shipmaster’s BUSINESS COMPANION (By Mr. Malcolm Maclachlan)

To be Continued……….

Contributed by: Prashant Kumar, The Author has over 17 years of experience in shipping, presently working as Deputy Technical Manager. The views are his own and do not represent his employer.


Categories: Industry, Regulations

Tags: , , , , , ,

Thanks for your feedback.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: